Well, it may have taken five extra months, but a Yankee striker–one born in 1992 mind you–finally found the netting in South Africa in 2010. Eat your heart out Sunil Gulati.
If you’re a fan of the USMNT, it’s hard to not be a little giddy as the States mildly corrected it’s last game in South Africa with a 1-0 win over the Bafana, Bafana at Green Point Stadium in Cape Town on Wednesday night.
The first hero in this one is actually Bob Bradley.
Perhaps it was his roots as collegiate coach, perhaps it was merely just a bunch of eager-to-please youngsters happy to be there….either way the oft-maligned coach of the U.S. initiated a short camp and managed a group of single-digit cappers who bought into his philosophy (attention to defense) and, ultimately, outlasted the “A-” team from South Africa.
Nowhere, perhaps, was this more evident than watching Mix Diskerud (as TSG accurately predicted getting a run at winger instead of centrally) willing himself to play defense after his late-in-the-2nd-half entry.
Those who have watched Diskerud in Norway have seen two things beyond his offensive acumen. First, a league where defense is important but not paramount and two, a player who doesn’t always adhere to his defensive assignment. You can probably ask Thomas Rongen about that analysis as well.
But there was Diskerud, late in the game, fending off crosses, recovering when beaten, and in a specific moment, keenly focused on Brad Guzan to make sure his one-man wall on a worrisome free kick on the near flank was on mark and protecting his keeper.
Diskerud’s performance was just one of many….wait…can you believe it has taken TSG this long to single out Juan Agudelo for his oft-foot calm finish on a Mix pass?
From Agudelo’s goal to Lichaj’s defending through Guzan’s calm stewardship, the USS Bradley plowed through its final game in 2010 with it’s rosiest “B” team performance of the year.
There’s oh so much more to discuss so on to our customary review:
Awards-What We Looked At-Player Ratings
Play of the game: Diskerud-to-Agudelo-to-Mr. Crossbar-to-pay dirt.
Agudelo finishes…FINISHES…with a pristine chip for the game winner off a patient deke-and-pass from Diskerud.
Most Unheralded Play Of the Game: Eddie Gaven
There were many of these….but Eddie Gaven had one to illuminate.
As the U.S. fought against the run of play in the 60th minute decade, Gaven who was still suffering from getting fouled a few moments earlier composed himself to intercept a pass bound for a very open center of the U.S. defensive third. Gaven was tired, and still feeling effects, but made the defensive effort.
Player of the Game: Brad Guzan
…..with apologies to Eric Lichaj, Clarence Goodson, Juan Agudelo and Ale Bedoya.
Many could have earned this nod today, but consider this: Guzan was playing behind Lichaj for the 2nd time (on the national team), behind Ream for the 1st time and behind Goodson I believe for the 3rd time. Yet with all that “uncertainty,” and as the States faced pressure early and throughout the game, Guzan calmly managed his back four, stepped up when necessary and made big saves seem elementary.
Well earned for the captain on the day.
What We Looked At:
• Refusal To Boot
You know, this probably deserved a mention way before now. The single biggest team thing that I, well, appreciated from this team was the calmness on the ball under duress on defense. Countless times, Eric Lichaj and Tim Ream in particular, flat-out refused to choose boot the ball up the pitch or out the side.
Instead, they took an extra second, guarded their possession, and calmly found outlets.
Up the field Alejandro Bedoya and Eddie Gaven likewise did not give in to giving the ball away.
A sequence early in the 2nd half saw Lichaj wait and wait coming under pressure and outlet to Bedoya who had two men on him. Bedoya absorbed a hit, protected the ball, actually went down but in the process, split two defenders, nudging a pass ahead to a semi-streaking Teal Bunbury. That simple play was scintillating to this observer.
• Speaking of simple, thank you Mr. Martino.
Yesterday’s columnist issued this tweet near the end of the 1st half when Robbie Rogers did a little too much–again–and lifted a somewhat harmless ball into the South Africa’s box.
Many Yanks kept it simple on the day, Brian Carroll, Ale Bedoya…even Juan Agudelo’s first touch was a drop pass to support. Robbie Rogers and Robbie Findley were not two of these people and the evaluation of their day will be worse for it.
It was almost like the bigger ego the worse and more me-too performance today, starting with Rogers.
Let’s not dwell.
• About That Right Side
On multiple occasions, both Clarence Goodson (finally playing his natural right central back role) and Eric Lichaj galloped into the attack. Goodson early on put a move on a South African defender and earned a free kick. Lichaj slalomed through the opposition and merely lacked the final ball on what may have been a dangerous chance.
Regardless, on the right, the U.S. got ahead in the attack and got ahead with confidence.
Bob Bradley: 9
Bradley took an oleo of “Happy-to-be-here’s” and selected another group of “Youngster-who-will-listen” and coaxed some cohesion of out of a team in record time. The team bought into defensive responsibility, weathered pressure, and finally valued and put-away that final ball.
G: Brad Guzan: 9
There are many styles in which to get a job done. Under Tim Howard, the common theme struck in the media was, “It’s necessary to scream, yell and have conflict on the field to solve problems” and that style works for Howard and company.
The great goalkeeper and commentator Shaka Hislop differs in his philosophy saying that a keeper egregiously pointing out errors shows the opponent where to attack and who is weak. No one style is the ultimate.
Guzan was decidedly calm and authoritative in the back despite having virtually no lead-up repititions at Aston Villa. He quietly pointed out issues and was effusive with praise and, in a moment that many media folks will miss, made it a point to verbally scold a South African defender that arrived to late on a cross and just avoided taking him out. The scolding made this writer in San Francisco think, “Man, if I ever play against Brad Guzan and it’s a 50-50 ball, he can have it.”
Well played Mr. Guzan.
LB: Jonathan Bornstein: 6
Dr. Yellow Card and Mr. Messi’s Foil was at it again today. You crave consistency with Bornstein and you’re just never going to get it not. Note that Jonathan Spector was tried at leftback for the first time in over two years by Bob Bradley, who favors natural footed players at their rightful positions out wide.
Clarence Goodson: 7.5
No real reason why Goodson doesn’t get considered for the first team in the next big USMNT game. Didn’t have that one nagging mistake per game that he usually does either.
Tim Ream: 7
Had to deal with a little Bornstein with-his-head-cut-off on the left. Got beat a few times to the endline. Showed the promise that is already evident in club ball.
Eric Lichaj: 7.5
With all due respect to Frank Thomas, can we label Lichaj “The Big Nasty.”
Lichaj played with bite. His early slide-in on Tshabalala was a message that someone like a John Terry would send, effectively stating, “You may have beat me a few times as I’m get my sea legs, but it’s going to be a long day for you on my side.”
This writer….loved it. It was…nasty. All through the game, Lichaj played within the rules to exert his physical nature on his opponent, to punish them. You know what else made me gush? 71st minute, Lichaj against Tshabalala I believe, as the South African makes a move with his left foot to the corner.
We all agree ‘Shaba is quick right? Well Lichaj pirouetted–away from the play–to recover and still stood up the left winger and negate the threat of a cross. Stunning.
On offense the Villa reserve back showed patience, a burst and a little Ricky Bobby shake-n-bake.
Eric Lichaj, I hereby christen you Steve Cherundolo’s heir…already apparent. But watch those fouls.
Robbie Rogers: 4.5
Arguably one of the most skilled players on the ball out there on Wednesday, we mentioned Martino’s review of Rogers earlier.
He just doesn’t seem to get it yet. One day it may click, but as the seasons wear on, it’s looking less likely.
Brian Carroll-Logan Pause: 6*
How can you not rate these guys together? Both MLS stalwarts, still in game shape, were asked by Bob Bradley to play consistently for 90+ minutes and be as error-free as possible. There were hiccups, there were mistakes. But they didn’t crumble. Seems to me they hit their ceiling on their ability level and did the job Bob asked them to.
Ale Bedoya: 7.5
The TSG-dubbed Ambassador to Brazil brought it this game, pushing the issue on the right flank while still playing within himself. Take a look if you want when Bedoya gets subbed for Mix at the 80th minute or so. He walks off with a gait that says, “I did my job.” Bob Bradley affirms with a hand slap and nod.
Eddie Gaven: 6.5
Sneaky, a sneaky 90+ minutes of quality. Nothing spectacular, but I’m really looking forward to seeing his band play tonight at the Peach Pit.
Robbie Findley: 5
Cast in the wrong role today, Findley battled to the best of his ability up against South Africa’s defensive trees. It’s
becoming still clear though, that ability is limited to breakaway speed and dogged pursuit and that’s about it.
Teal Bunbury: 6
Oddly seemed to thrive more as a single striker, got a little lost when the States moved to two up front.
Out of all the impressive offensive moves we saw Wednesday, Bunbury’s thigh-to-open-his-left-foot might have been the best. Poor shot nonwithstanding. There’s something here though.
Juan Agudelo: 7
….and now you eat your heart out Landon Donovan. At 17, Agudelo is the youngest American to score in international senior team play ever. Wow.
And you know what, Agudelo’s breadth of game impressed me more.
On his first touch, Agudelo was in the position of having a low probility of success if he attacked.
An attack was possible, yet Agudelo calmly dropped the ball off.
In the 89th minute, Agudelo–as a striker should–took the ball to the corner and displayed a swagger that said, “I can beat you if I want to, but I keeping the ball in the corner like I was told.” The ball nudged out of bounds, but Juan nochalantly flipped the ball back both wasting time and as if to say, “I’m done with you guys” to the two South African defenders that were there.
Who loved it? Any Agudelo jerseys left at World Soccer Shop?
Jonathan Spector: 5
Dear “New” Jonathan Spector, please summon the “Old” Jonathan Spector.
It’s not “growing pains” for Spector, it’s specifically a complete lack of confidence brought on by only playing mop-up minutes at West Ham.
Oh…and it may have taken me Spec’s entire USMNT tenure, but I finally figured out who he looks like: Kirk Cameron.
Had a nice all-or-nothing tackle on Pienaar in the box….you still got something Specs. Chin up.
Mix Diskerud: 7
Tragically forgot this rating the first time I published this. How cruel? My sentiments on Mix? Big bag of tricks, scratched the surface….just dropped two cliches on you because I’m tired.
As I wrote below, if the Sweatster calls in Kljestan without giving Mix sufficient burn, I might cry.
Gale Agbossumunde-Nat Borchers:
N/A, not enough observations, but great hair from the ‘Boss. Watch out Stu Holden.
A good and entertaining match for Yanks’ fans. Our one note on South Africa? David Somma, you forgot to score today and you really belong on Italy not South Africa…and definitely not the States.